Friday, October 17, 2008

Group activities and Spirit

I'm excited this morning because my Analog story is still "alive," even though it came out in May (in the July/August issue)... Rich Horton's year-end summary said it was a good story! Whee!

And speaking of cheering (yes, this is a segue)...

This week has been "Spirit Week" at my son's school. I guess you could also call it "get everybody to do strange things together week." In a four-day week we had pajama day, crazy hair day, Disney day, and school colors day. My son's been having a great time.

I remember doing this in my junior high and high school years. I loved it, too - even when I was generally feeling like the odd one out of most social groups.

There's something about doing things with other people. It feels good. It means something.

One of my most uplifting experiences ever was singing Mozart's Requiem with the university chorus when I was doing my Master's. I remember standing in the church and singing my guts out, but I also remember feeling almost as though I wasn't the one singing, that I was being borne up on the music and carried along, and that I could have sung forever. (This is of course not true, as I would have lost my voice before too long).

This is how I imagine the feeling of the House of Leaves in "Let the Word Take Me", where all the Gariniki are speaking and shouting out together.

My husband had an interesting experience concerning group activities when we were living in Japan. An American guy asked him how he could get along better with the Japanese members of the company, and my husband suggested he should 1. get drunk with them, 2. have a bath with them, and/or 3. sing karaoke with them. There's that singing thing again, but in the case of karaoke, it's not a question of joining your voice to the great song. Karaoke is all about expressing a joint willingness to humiliate yourself - and there's also a trust that comes with it, that no one will make fun of anyone else later. When another American fellow in the office went out for the first time for karaoke, the word that he was cool took about five minutes to run through the entire office the following morning, and suddenly even the people who hadn't been there felt better able to relate to him.

I'll talk about the bath thing tomorrow - it's just too wonderful a topic not to give it its own entry.

Group activities really help to define the nature of social groups. My husband has never experienced a "spirit week" before; his schools always had competition by House to help organize group spirit. For all those of us who have read Harry Potter, that should sound awfully familiar! Hogwarts wouldn't be Hogwarts without it.

So let's think for a minute about worldbuilding, since I always do. You've got a population, now how do you let everyone know what they're like? This is a great opportunity for "show don't tell": either dramatize, or make reference to, a type of group activity that is highly indicative of their spirit in social behavior. Is it attending sports? Is it watching gladiators fight to the death? Is it going to church? Is it eating together with the members of the nuclear family - or with all the members of the extended family? Is it shapeshifters melting together into the "Great Link" as it was in Star Trek DS9?

Ask yourself how a group defines itself, what its members do together, and what those activities mean to them. You'll take yourself instantly beyond the surface level, into a much more interesting place.